84 Harvard Business Review March 2011
Dominic Barton is the global managing director of McKinsey & Company.
Business leaders face a choice: They can reform the system, or watch as the government exerts control. A call to action from McKinsey & Company’s global managing director by Dominic Barton
Capitalism for the
ILLUSTRATION: JAMES JOYCE
he near meltdown of the nancial system and the ensuing Great Recession have been, and will remain, the de ning issue for the current generation of executives. Now that the worst seems to be behind us, it’s tempting to feel deep relief—and a strong desire to return to the comfort of business as usual. But that is ...view middle of the document...
My goal here is not to o er yet another assessment of the actions policymakers have taken or will take as they try to help restart global growth. The audience I want to engage is my fellow business leaders. After all, much of what went awry before and after the crisis stemmed from failures of governance, decision making, and leadership within companies. These are failures we can and should address ourselves.
March 2011 Harvard Business Review 85
CAPITALISM FOR THE LONG TERM
In an ongoing e ort that started 18 months ago, I’ve met with more than 400 business and government leaders across the globe. Those conversations have reinforced my strong sense that, despite a certain amount of frustration on each side, the two groups share the belief that capitalism has been and can continue to be the greatest engine of prosperity ever devised—and that we will need it to be at the top of its job-creating, wealth-generating game in the years to come. At the same time, there is growing concern that if the fundamental issues revealed in the crisis remain unaddressed and the system fails again, the social contract between the capitalist system and the citizenry may truly rupture, with unpredictable but severely damaging results. Most important, the dialogue has clari ed for me the nature of the deep reform that I believe business must lead—nothing less than a shift from what I call quarterly capitalism to what might be referred to as long-term capitalism. (For a rough de nition of “long term,” think of the time required to invest in and build a pro table new business, which McKinsey research suggests is at least ve to seven years.) This shift is not just about persistently thinking and acting with a next-generation view—although that’s a key part of it. It’s about rewiring the fundamental ways we govern, manage, and lead corporations. It’s also about changing how we view business’s value and its role in society. There are three essential elements of the shift. First, business and finance must jettison their short-term orientation and revamp incentives and structures in order to focus their organizations on the long term. Second, executives must infuse their organizations with the perspective that serving the interests of all major stakeholders—employees, suppliers, customers, creditors, communities, the environment—is not at odds with the goal of maximizing corporate value; on the contrary, it’s essential to achieving that goal. Third, public companies must cure the ills stemming from dispersed and disengaged ownership by bolstering boards’ ability to govern like owners.
None of these ideas, or the specific proposals that follow, are new. What is new is the urgency of the challenge. Business leaders today face a choice: We can reform capitalism, or we can let capitalism be reformed for us, through political measures and the pressures of an angry public. The good news is that the reforms will not only increase trust in the system; they will also...